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The Gruner Map: a 1913 map of the Togo Plateau in present-day Ghana

Few historical maps of Ghana’s Volta and Oti regions have been invested with so much political and sociohistorical meaning as Hans Gruner’s 1913 map of the Togo Plateau. Gruner, stationed for over twenty years at Misahöhe in present-day Togo, was a long-time colonial administrator known for his ethnographical and historical knowledge of the area. His name is still known in most localities depicted on the map, as I attested in Akpafu myself (I’ve written about the map on this blog before). Besides Akpafu, we find the communities Santrokofi, Gbi, Alavanyo, Nkonya, and Bowiri on this map.

The map is not uncontroversial and is in the first place a political object, serving a double goal of documentation and geopolitical regimentation. Gruner worked with the communities bordering on the Togo Plateau and saw to it that all of them received an official copy, some of which still survive. It was widely accepted by most of the communities, was adopted and used by British colonial authorities in the 1920s, and has since been upheld by the Ghana High Court numerous times as the definitive demarcation for settling land claims and boundary disputes, though the Nkonya-Alavanyo border remains disputed, with conflicts flaring up every now and then (Penu & Essaw 2019).

Gruner is still a household name in part because was a petty tyrant with a powerful grip on ‘his’ Misahöhe district. In the 1890s he played a key role in expanding the German colonial sphere and violently subjugating people that were in the way of German commercial and political interests. He led the infamous 1894/95 Togo Hinterland expedition, which sought to extend Germany’s sphere of influence ostensibly under the goal of building scientific and ethnographic collections (the latter obtained by buying or by looting). The influential Dente Bosomfo at Kete-Krachi was executed in public by firing squad under Gruner’s direction in November 1894, and Gruner subsequently oversaw the plundering of the Dente shrine (Maier 1980, Hüsgen 2020). He was stationed at Misahöhe between 1896 and 1914 and was presumptuous enough to give himself the title of “Graf von Misahöhe”.

Obscure and hard to find

Despite its historical significance and continuing local geopolitical relevance, access to the Gruner Map has been severely restricted for over hundred years, and interested parties have been pointed to archival copies in the custody of local authorities or in libraries in Europe that carry copies of Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten, the obscure and long-defunct German colonial-era journal in which the map was originally published as a supplement. Here’s a photograph of one of the copies surviving in Ghana:

Original copy of Gruner’s map as photographed by Penu & Essaw 2019 ‘during fieldwork in April 2015’

Now in the public domain

This situation is far from desirable: material of such significance should be available freely and at the highest possible quality to anyone interested. Fortunately, digitisation puts early sources within reach of anyone with an internet connection, and it has been possible for a while to now to find low-resolution copies online. But we can do better. Therefore I am making available a new high resolution scan of the map that I made myself with the help of the librarians at the MPI for Psycholinguistics. Here it is:

If ~5000x7500px is too large for you, try this slightly more reasonably sized one at 2000×2700 pixels, sourced from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Gruner map, 1913, JPG (2Mb, 2000×2707 pixels). Given that the map is from 1913 and its makers died in 1928 (Sprigade) and 1943 (Gruner), I consider it to be in the public domain.

To be clear: I take no position in any territorial disputes in which this old map may or may not be relevant. My position is that information wants to be free. For an overview of the Nkonya/Alavanyo conflicts, the contested role of the Gruner Map, and alternative ways of determining the relevant boundaries, see Penu & Essaw 2019 (PDF).

Historical & ethnographical interest

The communities featured on the map are, in clockwise order from top right and by their present-day designations: Akpafu, Santrokofi, Gbi, Alavanyo, Nkonya, and Bowiri. Gruner used a Germanized spelling, as seen in Sandrokofi and Kunja, and was somewhat erratic in keeping (Egbi) or leaving out (Lavanyo, Kunja) presyllabic vowels and nasals.

Even though the map is mostly known for its local geopolitical significance, there is another reason to share it: it has great historical-descriptive value. Just taking the Akpafu area (which I know best), it is clear that placenames have been faithfully recorded in such a way that we can recognise and even parse many local toponyms (e.g., Eprimkato = Iprimu-kato ‘the top of Iprimu’, Klasereré ɔkàlà-sɛrɛrɛ ‘steep sleeping mat’, and so on). Moreover, many abandoned settlements in the Kùbe mountains —of great historical and archaeological significance because of the famed local iron industry— are indicated on the map.

In short, the Gruner map offered unprecented detail for its time and was underpinned by considerable geological, ethnographical and sociological research. The research underlying the map was amply documented in an often-overlooked 12 page treatise that accompanies the map and that is also made available digitally here, perhaps for the first time (Gruner 1913):

While I have published translations of German early sources on this blog before, and in general I try to go out of my way to make early work accessible to as many readers as possible, I don’t quite have the resources right now to commit to a translation of this 12-page treatise, which is all the more reason to make the original German available. Perhaps others will beat me to translating it.

References & further reading

  • Gruner, Hans. 1913. Begleitworte zur Karte des Sechsherrenstocks (Amandeto). Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten 26(2). 127–139.
  • Gruner, Hans & Sprigade, P. & Ketzer, H. 1913. Karte des Sechsherrenstockes (bisher Kunjagebirge genannt). Nach den Aufnahmen des Regierungsrats Dr. H. Gruner unter Leitung von P. Sprigade bearbeitet und gezeichnet von H. Ketzer. Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten 26 (Karte 3).
  • Hüsgen, Jan. 2020. Colonial Expeditions and Collecting – The Context of the “Togo-Hinterland” Expedition of 1894/1895. Journal for Art Market Studies 4(1). (doi:10.23690/jams.v4i1.100)
  • Maier, Donna. 1980. Competition for Power and Profits in Kete-Krachi, West Africa, 1875-1900. The International Journal of African Historical Studies. Boston University African Studies Center 13(1). 33–50. (doi:10.2307/218371)
  • Penu, Dennis Amego Korbla & Essaw, David Wellington. 2019. Geographies of peace and violence during conflict: The case of the Alavanyo-Nkonya boundary dispute in Ghana. Political Geography 71. 91–102. (doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.03.003)
  • ModernGhana: The Gruner Map is over 100 years old (2013)

2 responses to “The Gruner Map: a 1913 map of the Togo Plateau in present-day Ghana”

  1. Many thanks for this blog post. I find it very useful especially for my current research on the Nkonya-Alavanyo conflict. I should point out that there are several of those maps made by Dr. Gruner and I think, it will be great to also know about the others and the circumstances in which they were made. A classic example will be the Gruner map of 1905, Kart Von Togo. This map is exceptionally significant especially for the Nkonya and Alavanyo simply because while the Nkonyas relied on the 1913 map, the Alavanyos had relied on the 1905 map in their litigation.

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